Duke's Hotel Bar, London

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Caroline Hampden-White becomes a Bond girls for the night and joins Alessandro Palazzi, Head Bartender in Duke’s hotel bar, in London’s fashionable St. James’s. It’s an area of money (mostly old), power and influence and a famous haunt of Ian Flemming…

 “Can I smoke a cigar out the back?” was the question. 

With a smile and a small bow came the reply: “Only if it’s a nice cigar.”

Ok, I’d better check out what you’ve got.

“They’re all good here; they’re Cuban.”

This epitomises Alessandro Palazzi’s attitude towards the serous things in life, like family, food and fabulous drinks. At 57, this neat, compact Italian has seen more of life than most.  Alessandro’s career has taken him to the very best places in some wide-ranging locations.  He spent time in California, and though the experience meant he “could easily write a script for Tarantino!”, it also gave him itchy feet. He moved between the George V and a slew of top London establishments including the Berkeley, the Connaught and the Mandarin Oriental, as well as Perugia and the Ritz in Paris.  It was whilst working in this latter that he met his wife, who was working in another fine Parisian hotel, Le Bristol. 

He is a great admirer of British food and drink and passionate about Scotch whisky.  He loves the Isla whisky festival and goes whenever he can.  He has distilled his concepts about the best bars and how they should be run as carefully as he distils his signature amber Vermouth, exclusive to Duke’s bar in the eponymous hotel. 

Dukes Hotel

Dukes Hotel

He is something of an authority on Ian Flemming, whose association with Duke’s bar goes back a long way.  Post Second World War, Flemming used hard-won military expertise to bring his hero, James Bond, alive on the page.  Later, Bond began to appear on the silver screen also, but Alessandro says “I prefer the books.  In the books, Bond breaks the rules”.

Alessandro is not dissimilar, describing himself as a “black sheep” – breaking boundaries and beating the bad guys to become the best.  Bar tending is a cut-throat business you know; don’t underestimate the lengths to which people will go…  One such boundary was his appointment of the first female bartender at Duke’s.  Hitherto it had been a very well-heeled, but very male domain.  That’s a characteristic of Alessandro’s; he looks for the keenest talent and hires nothing but the best. 

Sitting beneath portraits of august gentlemen, including the current Duke of Kent, the atmosphere is part gentleman’s club, part society drawing room.  This place brings to mind some of the smarter, more private bars in which we find Bond.  After his wet shave around the corner in St. James’s Street’s Truefitt & Hill termed: “the finest traditional gentlemen's barber and perfumer in London for over two centuries”, Flemming would repair to the bar at Duke’s to start the day’s drinking properly with one of their superlative martinis. 

Peruse the menu, walk through the delights on every page.  When you’re ready, Alessandro and his custom-made drinks trolley glide over to mix your drink in front of you.  It’s reminiscent of Simpson’s on the Strand, where the glistening slabs of meat carved beside your table are placed in front of you before you can say Yorkshire pudding. 

The menu contains many good things cleverly designed in homage to Flemming and Bond.  Ingredients reflect the people and scenes in the stories.  Take “Le Chiffre”, which contains chilli vodka, hot like Bond’s anger while losing at the gaming table; cold like the tears from le Chiffre’s disfigured eye. 

They keep bottles of gin, vodka and other necessaries in the freezer, as well as the glasses.  A giant bottle of Snow Queen, appropriately encrusted with ice, returns to its frozen throne, ready for the next person in need of its restorative powers.

Alessandro prepares for me a “Baron Samedi”, so named for the villain from Live and Let Die.  About to touch my lips to the glass before me, an American gentleman a few tables away rises, bows and addresses those sitting around him.  His request is easy to fulfil – that we join him in toasting his wife on their thirteenth wedding anniversary, that very day.  She isn’t actually there; he’s surrounded by a genial group of what look like business men.  Perhaps he’s a modern day Felix Leiter.  I do hope the lady in question was enjoying a martini half as good as the Vesper in her husband’s glass, for martinis are the speciality here and they serve around two thousand of them a month.  Of course, that’s not the only drink they serve and the bar holds approximately 50 people.  You do the maths.

A Vesper

A Vesper

A tang of ginger, accompanied by one of orange and a delightful freshness from the Dalwhinnie.  Baron Samedi and I are joined at last and I’m under his spell.  It’s a deceptively light, fragrant and aromatic cocktail and the more of it you drink, the more you detect the subtle tones of the tiny amount of chocolate vodka used in its preparation. 

Playing further with quasi-religious themes, the Vesper martini is joined on the menu by another wonderful Bond-themed whisky cocktail: the “Evensong”.  It’s strong and tangy; the slight bitterness is very refreshing.  The Gaelic Italian is a rainbow of flavours as vivid as the pairing of those two cultures.  It uses classic Scottish and Italian ingredients including Coal Isla distiller’s edition and Passito di Pantelleria, a Moscato wine made from dried grapes grown in Italy's most southerly territory, the island of Pantelleria.  There are citrus notes in the background and the peat from the Coal Isla goes all the way through the drink from the first sip to the very last. 

The Gaelic Italian

The Gaelic Italian

I’d wager Alessandro’s clever concoctions would rival anything that Flemming drank at Duke’s and my instinct says that what’s served now is probably even better. 

With his love of booze, service, the UK and Japan, Alessandro has much in common with Bond.  Bond might be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; we can delight in the understated theatre of Alessandro’s service, and that of his team, in this swanky establishment where they blend of glamour and sophistication, so that the best of Bond can live on. 

By Caroline Hampden-White

Fine and Rare Bar: Tommy Tardie's Story

Tommy Tardie - Owner of Fine and Rare

Tommy Tardie - Owner of Fine and Rare

Colin Hampden-White meets Tommy Tardie to discuss his exciting new adventure: Fine and Rare.

Tommy Tardie is a delightfully engaging and relaxed man, utterly passionate about whisky specifically, and booze generally. He’s the kind of chap with whom it would be a pleasure to spend the afternoon – talking, tasting and kicking back.

He is not an hotelier or mixologist by background, but personal experience of eating and drinking in fine establishments has stood him in good stead with latest venture: Fine & Rare.

Tommy’s earlier career was as a Creative Director in the advertising world. Bored by the increasing bureaucracy the higher he rose, he sought new avenues and joined the world of “knowledge-based hospitality”. 

Qualities that made him successful in advertising – including a remarkable eye for crafting a visual feast – certainly translate into his new milieu. He excels at creating an inviting atmosphere that is haute qualité without being starchy or clinical.

Tommy’s earlier creation, the Flatiron Room in New York’s Midtown, is a stone’s throw from its namesake. The cradle of its newly-born sister, Fine & Rare, is further up midtown, a short walk from the Empire State Building. The Flatiron Room opened in September 2012; Fine & Rare came into the world early in 2017.

Tommy splits his time between the two establishments, though of course he’s been spending more time at Fine & Rare in its early stages. “It’s like a new-born child: it needs all the attention at the beginning. You’ve got to shape it, make sure it’s doing all the right things and developing properly”. Perhaps the fact that he’s a family man, married with two children, is why Tommy is rooted in reality. I think this helps him create engaging human spaces.

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Tommy certainly has the skill of selecting the right people for a job. The general managers of both establishments complement his leadership beautifully. Ask for Dacha at Fine & Rare and David Garcia at the Flatiron Room; they will look after you as you deserve.

The Flatiron Room boasts 1,200 bottles of whisky and is very whisky-centric, though they certainly offer other spirits. One might say it’s part of the Speakeasy style prevalent in New York’s bars. It is certainly very theatrical, with its jazz musicians and singers. It reminded me of the scene in Moulin Rouge – in a good way – where Nicole Kidman descends on her swing singing diamonds are a girl’s best friend. With a dancer’s lightness of foot servers pirouette, balancing trays and guests enjoy a spot-lit floor show.

As a European, I perceive the American pioneering spirit keenly in Fine & Rare. Tommy took not just a blank canvas but a concrete hole, with no walls and a pockmarked floor on which they walked “very cautiously”.  “It was a big raw space. It was a challenge to make it feel authentic.”

Along with his team, he has achieved a trick that’s very difficult to pull off – to create character from a void. Everything has been chosen with great care and is either antique, reclaimed or custom-made, from Italian marble fireplaces to original teller windows from Grand Central Station. “I wanted to go more for a 1950s feel, bring in some of the feel of the Explorers’ Club on the Upper East Side”. Slices of agate, ostrich eggs and other objets sit atop vintage leather-bound books. Part of an old New York post office has been turned into a table, the top of an ancient holds its position against one wall. Investor names are branded into the reclaimed polished-wood floor

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Part of that trick’s success lies in fashioning distinct areas with flow, whilst avoiding them feeling separate from one another. Tommy says “we played around with the elevation to give it some dimension. It has a rich feeling as though we had recovered it; a feeling of timelessness”.

There are many types of show going on here, from the evening’s jazz musicians to the ladders that bar staff ascend to access bottles in shelves set high above your head. “We decided to incorporate our product into the architecture” chuckles Tommy. “With Manhattan real estate, you’ve got to go up!”  There is an interesting use of mirrors, some slightly occluded, that bring light delicately. The stainless-steel ceilings are reclaimed from part of a still.

Fine & Rare attracts a well-heeled, sophisticated yet un-flashy crowd. “In New York there are many places that exclude – from bars to shoe shops. The value and the experience have to be there. This is luxury brand without pretention.”

It’s a really comfortable space so I can see why its clientele range from couples and private parties enjoying a great night out, to corporate and educational events. Their knowledgeable staff welcome guests, whether connoisseur or novice, and talk through everything that’s on offer. That range encompasses tasting flights, cocktails and exclusive über-taste bottlings such as the 1990 grand vintage Glenmorangie.

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The doors to the tasting room come from masonic temple, as does the chandelier, and it has a dividable table. To soften the room, the walls are covered with hundreds of small format photos that create a panorama evocative of David Hockney’s landscapes.

A focal point here, as in the Flatiron Room, is the mini booths that house privately-owned individual bottles. Whole booths are also available, many corporately-owned. William Grant & Sons, for example, occupy two. The booths are a minimum six bottle purchase and occupancy must never fall below four bottles. Perish the thought. Hand-stamped metal tags adorn the necks of owners’ bottles.

There is an encouragingly vast amount of whisky here.  It is joined by a range of other spirits including fine tequila, brandies, agave and rum. Tommy describes it as a “carefully curated selection. I do it all myself.” Special favourites include Laphroaig Cairdeas, Glenfarclas 1966, privately bottled for Mahesh Patel, founder of the Nth Whisky Experience Vegas, Kelpie – the most recent Ardbeg Committee release, Bunnahabhain 1968, Rosebank 21. He is also a big fan of Pappy Van Winkle expressions.

The Smoking Rye Old Fashioned tickles all the senses. On lifting the wooden lid, curls of smoke are released, a forerunner to the taste itself. This is achieved through firing wood chips in tehri smoker before introducing that smoke on top of the liquid in the glass. The effect is to impart a light smoky flavour to this Knob Creek rye-based cocktail. It is your choice of wood selection – hickory, Applewood, mesquite or Cherrywood.

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The Triumph and the Fine & Rare Cloud both feature their privately-bottled barrels of Elijah Craig; the Cloud is topped by homemade maple foam that gives a deliciously creamy feel. The Triumph is a multi-layered creation; the Pedro Ximénez sherry is balanced by chocolate bitters and a lightness from orange peel twisted over the top.

Brenne whisky, aged in cognac barrels, is the star of the Ginger-Brenne House. A cute play on words, the ginger liqueur and candied ginger – balanced by lemon peel – impart warmth and seduction.

The Garden of Eden is a properly grown-up G&T, with juniper berries frozen into the ice cube that emerge as the ice melts. The Mediterranean aromatics of thyme, basil, rosemary, green olive, dehydrated lemon just jump out of the glass. Bitterness from the green olive brine is reminiscent of a Dirty Martini.

It might sound geeky but I had the strong sense that the temperature of each cocktail had been very carefully considered. Of course, that’s as it should be; but nowadays too many drinks are served much colder than suits them. I want to taste the drink properly, not get frostbite off the glass. The subtle temperature variations enhance one’s experience of these properly spirits-driven cocktails allowing you to appreciate each distinctive taste quality.

The “F” of “Fine & Rare” is the food. The concept is “clean upscale American food”. Colin tried to muscle in on the intense, yet delicate, duck prosciutto with candied and pickled walnuts. I slapped his fork away.

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Now this is the States; it’s New York. So it’s got to be a hamburger. If the devil were considering the most effective way to tempt you through food, this would be it. I’m not exaggerating. If that hamburger weren’t naughty enough, there are truffle-oil fries. Trust me, for a dish of this stuff, your soul is a pretty good trade. The truffle wafts toward you from the plate and gives a little zing as you bite into them. Finish with the Greek-inspired orange cake with ice cream. It’s light, fragrant and divine – and big enough to share, especially after the burger.

Asking Tommy about future plans, a glint in his eye tells me that the Flatiron Room and Fine & Rare will enjoy the company of another sibling at some point. For now, his cards are very close to his chest.

 If I have one complaint, it’s that in Manhattan Fine & Rare is quite a long way from our home in London. All the more reason to plan the next trip to the Big Apple. 

By Colin Hampden-White

The Wellesley Knightsbridge Hotel

For the past seven years, The Wellesley Knightsbridge Hotel in London has offered its guests a sanctuary decorated by classic adornments with chic and modern twist. Its extravagance and classic décor has wowed London’s elite since first opening its doors back in 2012. The Wellesley features beautiful rooms and amenities worthy of high praise, with attractions like live jazz music, a world class cigar selection, dedicated Rolls Royce chauffeur service for guests and (of course) the best of the best in customer service. It is no wonder that the Wellesley has catapulted itself into the stratosphere of luxury lodging.

Amongst all of these remarkable attractions however, there is one in particular that we are particularly enamoured with: their awe-inspiring crystal bar. This breathtaking lounge area features a marvellous 1920’s décor style. The speakeasy type of atmosphere, coupled with an impressive crystal display of some of the finest spirits this world has seen, makes for a awe-inspiring lounge area that calls for pure celebration.

Address: 11 Knightsbridge, London  SW1X 7LY United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 20 7235 3535
Website

Sofitel London: A Ten Year Reunion

Colin Hampden-White revisits Sofitel for a rather special anniversary.

Ten years ago, I stayed in a fabulous hotel in central London, with my new wife Caroline. We had wed that day in the beautiful Westminster Abbey and partied until the early hours at the House of Lords, so to stay a stone’s throw away in St James’ in absolute comfort was perfect. We arrived very late and slept well. The stay was perfect for the occasion, but it didn’t give us time to enjoy what the hotel had to offer, so for our tenth anniversary we organised to go back and do exactly that.

We arrived early in the afternoon to check in. Like the day after our wedding, the weather was glorious, and we wanted to walk around St James’. The Sofitel is perfectly placed for everything the west end has to offer. Being a short walk to the theatres on Shaftsbury avenue, the bars and clubs of Soho, the bars and private clubs of Pall Mall, and of course, the shops. It would have been remiss of us if we hadn’t taken a browse around Fortnum and Mason and perused the shelves at Berry Bros and Rudd. With more time there are the numerous galleries to visit including the Royal academy on Piccadilly. 

Having built up a thirst, we came back to the hotel to relax in our room before experiencing the cocktails and the bar. The bar is sophisticated without being pretentious as so many London hotel cocktail bars have a tendency to be. The cocktails are easily explained and have a clear theme which is both entertaining and informative. This year’s theme is music, and the menu arrived like a CD case with the “playlist” inside.

We delved straight in with a Marley inspired “Catch the Fire”, and a Candle in the Wind inspired “Lady D”. The first being a rum based cocktail served up in a Caribbean style bottle which had elements of a sour cocktail balanced by some sweet fruity rum. Lady D being a long style drink including Rhubarb Vodka and liqueurs, Pothecary gin, homemade macaroon and cassis syrup, rose water and Angostura bitters. It was refreshing and floral with lots going on on the flavour front.

Space Cowboy

Space Cowboy

Having settled in, we had our second pair, a “Space Cowboy” with gin and absinthe in the mix and Jamiroquai shaped horns emblazoned on the froth, and a “Losing my Wings” after REM. Both well balanced with the REM cocktail being particularly decedent using Woodford Reserve, homemade dried fruit honey, cinnamon and citrus infused Madagascar vanilla liqueur, lime juice, Abbott’s bitters, rhubarb bitters and egg white.

Having thought we had found the best on the list, our bartender suggested we try “Drunk In Love”, which seems wholly appropriate, so we gleefully accepted the suggestion, and we were so glad we did. Inspired by Beyoncé, it was thick and creamy with Rémy Martin 1738, Coconut milk, salted caramel syrup, roasted pineapple syrup, lemon juice and a vanilla foam. It was hedonistic and warmingly alcoholic but never out of balance.

Drunk on Love

Drunk on Love

Feeling all warm a fuzzy we moved to the Balcon restaurant. With a good look at the menu and our courses decided upon we had another choice to make on the wine. The sommelier made it so hard to choose, so we decided to have a different glass of wine each to try one another’s. So with our first courses of Foie gras ballotine, sourdough, fig, pomegranate, Marcona almonds and Beef tartare, burnt onion egg yolk, balsamic potato crisps, we had a glasses of Gewurztraminer, Cave de Hunawihr, vin d’Alsace, and France Viognier, “Les vignes d’à côté”, Yves Cuilleron, Rhone Valley, France. Both went well with the dishes, and each respectively even better with their correct partners.

For the main course we had a bottle of Rauzan Segla 1998 breathing, and we matched it with Whole lemon sole meunière, pea purée, shallots and capers and one of the best shepherds pies I’ve had. 

Made at the table the desserts were not just a spectacle, but a flavour filled moment of guilty pleasure. Sweet, hot caramelised fruit with crepe or sorbet, and a heady dash of spirit was a real treat. These desserts being classics concocted in a different age, are still wonderful today and thank god they have been brought back to fine dining.

An evening at the Sofitel is a complete experience, there is no need to go out to a cocktail bar, find a fine dining restaurant elsewhere, and al the end of the night one simply has to ascend to your room and slumber in a hugely comfortable bed, only to wake to fresh coffee, a homemade breakfast and approach the day feeling well looked after and revitalised.

By Colin Hampden-White

 

Mango Tree Belgravia

Mango Tree is nestled in the heart of Belgravia. Like its original location in Bangkok, Mango Tree offers exquisite and authentic Thai cuisine right near Buckingham Palace. Guests will be greeted by a warm and spacious environment and be seated in a stylish venue reminiscent of restaurants in Thailand.

The space has been feng-shui designed to ensure guests have a comfortable and enhanced dining experience. Mango Tree offers classic Thai cuisine of the highest caliber while also being innovative. The finest ingredients are sourced both locally and abroad and each culinary region produces a particular flavor for each Thai dish.

The north provides rich and mild dishes, spicy dishes come from the east, the central region provides mild dishes influenced from Chinese style, and the south produces the hot and spicy dishes. Guests can enjoy a wide variety of Thai dishes like the Pla Plow. Pla Plow is a grilled fillet of sea bass artfully wrapped in a banana leaf and fresh lemon grass. Savor an explosion of flavors that includes spicy lime sauce, larb pla tuna, and corn-fed chicken in green curry. Stop in for an exquisite bite of authentic Thai cuisine and enjoy the genuine Thai hospitality.

Address: 46 Grosvenor Place, London SW1X 7EQ
Telephone: 020 7823 1888
Website

Lanes of London

Located on London’s Park Lane with stunning views of Hyde Park and the Marble Arch, Lanes of London is an all-day casual dining experience which should not be missed. This restaurant focuses on creating a seasonal British menus featuring various decedent breakfast options from French Toast to Full English Breakfast and Avocado on toastLunch and dinner are no less indulgent, with menu items such as Guinea fowl with thyme, white onion, wild mushroom and cavolo nero, a selection of Beef Steaks, Duck breast with carrot, orange, brassica and sweet potato and Sticky Toffee Pudding. No matter what you choose, the quality of these seasonal ingredients is impeccable and the tastes will please even the most discerning palate.

Lanes of London also offers a Botanical Afternoon Tea comprising of a wonderful selection of finger sandwiches, fresh scones, cakes, and pastries all inspired by botanicals and English garden ingredients. There is a stunning selection of loose leaf tea varieties available to compliment your Afternoon Tea, however, for those that would prefer a little tipple, the option of adding a glass of Champagne or upgrading to a bottomless bubbly Afternoon Tea is available.

Seen as soon as you enter from the Park Lane entrance, the bar at Lanes of London also leaves a striking first impression that will only be improved after trying a couple of cocktails. This casual bar offers a delightful locale equally suited to after-work drinks, pre-dinner cocktails, or late-evening nightcaps. Though casual in atmosphere, the cocktail menu aims to please customers with elevated palates and is a Gin lovers dream with a selection of over 50 to choose from.

Address: 140 Park Lane, London, United Kingdom W1K 7AA
Telephone: 020 7647 5664
Website

Smith & Wollensky

Smith & Wollensky is a steakhouse known to “end all arguments” with various locations in the U.S and one in London. Founded in 1977, this is one of the many restaurants that exhibits true American hospitality, from the warm welcome when you arrive to the knowledgeable staff at your table, making your experience a pleasing one from your first bite to your last sip! They are delighted to announce the launch of a brand new American brunch menu that will be served on Saturdays and Sunday morning through mid afternoon.

The menu is over the top in all the right ways. Imagine eggs 12 ways including 5 styles of Eggs Benedict. From hearty USDA Prime steaks to healthy salads and rye sandwiches, and for those who are wondering about waffles or blueberry pancakes on the menu, they’re included too!

When it comes to the Bloody Mary’s, there is more than one to choose from. Alongside the classic, there’s also a French inspired concoction, along with Japanese, Mediterranean, American, and a Bloody Shame for those of you who don’t want alcohol in the morning. Start your day the American way at Smith & Wollensky!

Address: The Adelphi Building, Covent Garden Riverside, 1-11 John Adam St, London, WC2N 6HT
Telephone: 020 7321 6007
Website

Novikov Restaurant and Bar

How many times can you recall walking into a singular restaurant and offered three completely separate dining experience? Novikov Restaurant & Bar is a three in one offering with two distinct restaurants and one stylish lounge bar. The inside décor and atmosphere, however, is fluid throughout by combining cool and contemporary for a relaxing evening out.

With both Asian and Italian themed cuisine available, it’s difficult to choose a side. Novikov Asian greets diners with an enticing display of seafood and vegetables to simulate an open Asian food market. The entire menu is Chinese and Pan-Asian inspired and utilizes novel flavors and textures to elicit an immediate palate response.  On the other hand, Novikov Italian uses an imposing wood-fired oven to draw guests in. The suede wall paneling with wood framed mirrors and rustic chandeliers visually compliment just how they prepare the food. The indulgent menu features regional Italian dishes with a contemporary flare.

For more of an exciting night out with less focus on food and more on the venue, the Lounge Bar within Novikov is your destination. Sip from the extensive cocktail list, enjoy live music, and dance the night away to performances by some of the world’s top DJs.

Novikov Restaurant & Bar has so much to offer at one location. Come back time and time again for a different experience in both scene and cuisine.

Address: 50A Berkeley Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 8HA
Telephone: 020 7399 4330
Website